2 March 2022
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The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has recently published updated statistics on the number of domain name disputes that it has handled, with the figures for 2021 accelerating the sharp increase in the number of cases in recent years.

In total, 5128 cases were handled by WIPO in 2021, an increase of 924 (22%) from the previous year, which itself saw an increase of 14% from 2019:

WIPO Domain Name Disputes

(Source: https://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/statistics/cases.jsp)

This is a trend that appears to be echoed by other providers of domain name dispute resolution services. FORUM, the US-based mediation and arbitration centre, issued 2057 decisions in UDRP (‘top level’ domain name dispute) cases in 2021, and increase of 16% from the prior year:

FORUM UDRP Decisions

(Source: https://www.adrforum.com/domain-dispute/search-decisions)

Similarly, and even though the total number of cases is notably lower than those handled by WIPO or FORUM, the data from the Czech Arbitration Court’s handling of UDRP cases again show a notable rise in cases in recent times, with the number of cases more than tripling in the last 5 years:

Czech Arbitration Court UDRP Decisions

(Source: https://udrp.adr.eu/adr/decisions/index.php)

Is the same increase being seen with ‘country code’ level domain name disputes?

Contrary to the statistics from WIPO, FORUM and the Czech Arbitration Court, Nominet (the provider of domain name dispute resolution services for .uk domains) doesn’t appear to have seen the dramatic increase in cases experienced elsewhere. If anything, the number of DRS decisions issued by Nominet – a reasonable reflection on the number of cases – is seeing a declining trend over the last 5 years:

Nominet DRS Decisions

(Source: https://secure.nominet.org.uk/drs/search-disputes.html)

What’s behind the increase in cases seen at WIPO and FORUM in particular?

According to WIPO, the recent increase in the number of domain name dispute cases that it has handled is due to “the greater number of people spending more time online, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, with trademark owners reinforcing their online presence to offer authentic content and trusted sales to Internet users”. It seems reasonable to assume that this is equally the reason behind the increases experienced by other domain dispute providers too.

WIPO has also previously commented that “The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have fuelled an increase in cybercrime”, including cybersquatting. “Many domain name registration authorities have even reported an increase in the number of domain names registered” WIPO continues. “These may be used for news/information sites, or even to provide new business offerings, but much like social media platforms, are also being used to spread misinformation and to engage in illegal and fraudulent activities”, hence the need for brand owners to take action against via nefarious domain registrants through the various dispute procedures that are available.

Here to help

Many companies consider their domain names to be vitally important and very valuable commercial assets. They are often heavily promoted and used to signpost customers to both ecommerce platforms and websites where more information can be obtained about the company or brand. If you find yourself in a dispute situation you will need domain dispute experts to help you navigate what can be a very complex and potentially damaging area.

We are very experienced in handling these types of disputes. We can help when another party sets up an internet domain name that is identical or similar to your existing brand or name, with the aim of profiting from pretending to be your brand, including so-called ‘cybersquatting’, or else to try and divert business away from you.

Andy is a Partner and Chartered Trade Mark Attorney at Mewburn Ellis. He handles a wide range of trade mark work, from searches, portfolio reviews and devising filing strategies to prosecution of applications, oppositions, revocation and invalidity actions. Andy has extensive experience representing clients at the UKIPO, EUIPO and WIPO (for international ‘Madrid Protocol’ registrations).
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